Ancient Bards – Soulless Child
To my eternal discredit within the power metal community, I was maybe the only one who was not smitten with Ancient Bard’s debut The Alliance Of Kings. I reviewed it for a now discontinued Dutch online magazine, and stated (among other inspired insults) that for a fantasy power metal band these guys seemed to lack any sort of fantasy to come up with imaginative music. Enjoy the next brief space to stone me to death before reading on.
That hurt. I stand by my former statement and was not expecting Ancient Bards to grow beyond their Rhapsody-and-others-plagiarism into a symphonic power metal band I could come to respect. First off they have stopped pronouncing the word “sword” as “surd” which already earns them about double the score I have given the debut. Secondly to my pleasant surprise and hopefully reinstatement among my power metal peers I thoroughly enjoyed this sophomore outing for what it is: a joyfully bombastic and undeniably entertaining trip to some fantasy world I couldn’t care less about.
Yes this is far less immersive than Dragonland’s Under The Grey Banner and I will always prefer the Swedes’ sense of subtle buildup and payoff above this blunter axes-in-your-face-approach, but the melodies on Soulless Child shimmer too much to be ignored. The blatant comparisons to Rhapsody and genre colleagues have not disappeared completely, nevertheless the band seems to have gained some more character of its own. Most songs take their time to draw you into the atmosphere instead of mind-numbingly hitting you over the head with spitfire riffing and overly cheerful choruses.
The intro is only necessary for the people who want to know about the story and the real kick-off comes with “To The Master Of Darkness”, with its great symphonic main theme and strong vocal work by Sara Squadrani (whose voice appears to have matured a bit). She sounds stronger and more confident and is able to sell the also improved material a lot better than on The Alliance Of Kings. Not among my favorite female vocalists just yet, but she gets the job done. “Gates Of Noland” is a fun romp with an unforgettable chorus, in my opinion a first for the band.
Sadly just when the band starts to build up some credible momentum they break it up with a nine-minute ballad that slows the whole thing down to a halt. Really bad move as I was just getting into this. “Valiant Ride” picks up the pace again and with the fantastic title track and fist-pumping aggression of “Through My Veins” we are once again in epic territory. The fourteen-minute-fest and closer “All Is Hope” wraps a neat if overlong bow around the proceedings of Daltor, Sendor and all those other jolly creatures. I must say that they handled this lengthy epic better than Rhapsody does most of theirs. Or need I remind you of the incredible snooze fest that is “Gargoyles, Angels Of Darkness”?
In the end my dislike for The Alliance Of Kings and my appreciation for Soulless Child are easily explained. The new one actually grabs my attention and makes me want to sing and swordfight along. This an Ancient Bards I can get on board with, instead of just get bored with. There is soul in this child, let’s hope it doesn’t depart again.
Arno Callens’ Rating: 3,75 out of 5